ROYALS RETURN FOR S&R TEAM
Back to a ‘special place’ for couple
Pictures from disbandment:
THE Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made an emotional return to the base where the Prince served as a search and rescue pilot to mark the formal end of the service.
William and Kate stood in Hangar 116 at RAF Valley to see the remaining members of the SAR force parade their colours for the final time after private firm Bristow assumed responsibility for search and rescue in the UK.
With Whirlwind and Sea King helicopters as a backdrop, the royal couple heard Air Chief Marshall Sir Baz North praise the men and women who had saved lives from the Anglesey base for more than 75 years.
As they marched away for the last time, the royal couple joined the applause for a service which was called out 34,122 times and helped almost 27,000 people since official records began in 1983.
Group Captain Steve Bentley, current RAF Search and Rescue Commander, had mixed feelings about the occasion.
“It’s a strange day because it’s a mixture of emotions,” he said.
“On the one hand it is sad, but we have massive pride in what we have done. The overwhelming emotion is pride in having delivered a service to the nation.”
During his three years at RAF Valley Prince William undertook 156 operations, rescuing 149 people.
Having flown in by helicopter for the formal ceremony, the royal couple were later entertained at a reception in the Ladies’ Room at the officers’ mess.
They looked relaxed and at ease as they met servicemen and women who had staffed the squadrons.
Wing Commander “Sparky” Dunlop was the officer commanding 22 Flight SAR at Valley when it was handed over to Bristow last year, and subsequently flew the last mission of any RAF SAR flight at RAF Chivenor, Devon.
He paid tribute not only to the pilots but to those behind the scenes. “Today is about the engineers and support staff who all worked together to rescue tens of thousands of people,” he said.
Remembering the royal guest’s days at the controls of the Sea King, he said: “He was a good pilot. In our work there is no room for hangers-on, and he earned his wings just like everyone else.
“He did bring a spotlight on us, but that was a good thing. Hopefully, it brought a spotlight on the work we do.”
He added: “The Prince is a part of our family and hopefully he will always be part of that family.”
Some of those present had served with the Prince, including Flight Sergeant Rob Linfoot.
“He’s absolutely brilliant,” he said of William. “You can’t dislike him. He really expected a lot of himself and he strived to be better than anyone else.
“He coped brilliantly with all he had been through in the press and he was a brilliant pilot.”
The Royal couple were well turned out and greeted old friends and colleagues as well as watching the ceremony of disbandment for 22 Squadron where William once worked
Wing Commander Sparky Dunlop Flight Sergeant Rob Linfoot chats to the Prince